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Manitoba Thunder Bay grain shipments set modern record

For the first time in 20 years, Manitoba shipped more grain through the Port of Thunder Bay than Saskatchewan.

“Historically, Manitoba grain has accounted for about a third of the grain shipments through Thunder Bay,” Chris Heikkinen, the port’s communications and research co-ordinator, said in an email Nov. 5. “This has changed over the past five years.”

Manitoba shipped a modern record of 3.9 million tonnes of grain through the Port of Thunder Bay during the 2018-19 crop year, figures from Quorum Corporation show. (Thunder Bay’s ‘modern’ grain-shipping records coincide with the appointment of Canada’s grain monitor in 1999. Until the 1980s Thunder Bay was Western Canada’s biggest grain export port but as demand rose in Asia, Vancouver assumed that role.)

That’s up from the five-year average of 3.3 million tonnes.

“Ten years ago the average was 1.8 MMT, demonstrating the significant upward trend in recent years,” Heikkinen wrote.

Of the almost 7.5 million tonnes of total grain shipped through Thunder Bay during the last crop year, which ended July 31, 52.3 per cent came from Manitoba and 46.9 and 0.9 per cent came from Saskatchewan and Alberta, respectively.

During the previous crop year (2017-18) grain shipments through Thunder Bay were split evenly between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Tim Heney.
photo: Allan Dawson

Some of the increase is the result of shipping more Manitoba canola to the European Union, Thunder Bay Port Authority CEO Tim Heney said in an interview Nov. 7.

Traditionally most Manitoba grain is exported through Thunder Bay because it’s closer than Vancouver and Prince Rupert, he said. But even though Thunder Bay’s catchment doesn’t extend all that far into Saskatchewan, it represents so many more acres that Saskatchewan grain volumes traditionally exceeded Manitoba’s.

Soybeans have added to Manitoba’s grain shipments at 231,000 and 470,000 tonnes in 2018-19 and 2017-18.

Grain shipments through Thunder Bay will increase as western Canadian grain production rises, given the Port of Vancouver has limited room to grow, Heney said.

While China is a big market for Canadian grain, future growth is limited, according to Heney. But because of climate change he predicts Canada will be able to export more grain to the Middle East and Africa. Both are best served through Thunder Bay, Heney said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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